Badger don’t care

Hester backed down.

The guest had given him a growl, a grunt, a wordless warning that said “Don’t try it. Just don’t.”, and had continued eating. He ate like … he ate with his hands like a person who doesn’t use implements much attempting to use implements. If that makes sense. He buried his whole face in the half-cooked joint of meat, tearing at it, barely chewing, gobbling it down and making little sounds of frustration at just how long this was taking.

Hester backed down. You see all sorts, here at the crossroads. This man carried no weapons, not even a dagger. His face, arms, neck, his chest beneath his unlaced leather vest, everywhere really was heavily scarred. So if he got in that many fights, unarmed, how come he wasn’t dead yet? His stocky, powerfully muscular frame told part of the story, but probably not all. The way he was eating told some more, as did his sheer lack of concern about the cleaver Hester had picked up. No, this particular guest was not to be messed with. Hester replaced the cleaver, left his kitchen, and went looking for the boss.

The boss was negotiating with the company captain. Room and board, a couple of nights, deposit for breakages. “Uh, boss? There’s a guest in the kitchen and …”. The company captain finished for him: “Short, half-dressed, silver hair, messy eater?” Hester replied “Yeah, that’s him.” The captain nodded. “You’d best leave him to it. He won’t be long, and he won’t break anything if you leave him alone. Unless – do you have any honey in there?” “Yes, but it’s under lock and key. It’s pretty safe. The captain shook his head, “Sir, he will find it. Pour a quarter-pint in a pot and leave him to it.” He nodded to the innkeep, “the company will cover it, of course”. The cook looked doubtful. “Couldn’t one of your men just…”, and was interrupted by stifled laughter from a few of the men listening. One of them explained, “Bloke could lose a finger trying to do that. Just leave him be, mate. Look, I’ll come into the kitchen with you while you fetch the honey, right? Don’t touch his food, and he won’t hurt you.”

They headed over to the kitchen. “Who is this person, anyway?”, asked the cook. “Well, we don’t really ask questions like that in zero company. Story is, a few years back, we were on the road. He wandered into camp, ate a leg of lamb, and curled up by the fire. Been with the company ever since.” “But, didn’t anyone ask?” The fighter grinned at some secret. “Mate, it didn’t occur to anyone for a few days that he could talk.”

In the kitchen, the wordless guest had finished the joint of meat. The shinbone had been cracked open and the marrow sucked out. The guest was looking for something. “Ah shit,” whispered the fighter, “he’s smelled the honey. Just give him the whole pot, and do it quick.” Hester, warned perhaps by the genuine no-nonsense in the fighters voice, unlocked the secure pantry and retrieved the pot. He offered it to the guest. The guest seemed about to take it, then paused – as though he had just remembered something important. He retrieved a metal cup from somewhere on his person and dipped that into the pot. Then he looked at the fighter, looked at the cook, and shifted into the form of a small weasel and ran up the wooden walls and into the attic.

Hester was – well, he’d seen all sorts here at the crossroads. The fighter raised his eyebrows. “He must like you, mate.” “So,” asked the cook, “zero company has a weasel?”. The fighter looked about to say something, then thought better of it. Instead he replied, “Well, he uses some other shapes when it comes down to a fight. Just ignore him. If you need to talk to him, call him badger. But I wouldn’t if I were you.”

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